Context, Company Culture, and Career Management

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Aug 05

How different have the company cultures been at the places you have worked? Have you noticed?

Some companies are run by the engineers, another by developers, another by management. Some seek consensus among all parties in a decision while others have decisions dictated to them.

While we all talk about our job skills, performance and looking for opportunity as a framework for our career, there is another lurking factor in our success or failure in our job.

Company culture contributes to our success or failure

The culture of a company makes a difference in our ability to be successful in our career.

If you are not a fan of an autocratic, authoritarian regime, working for one isn’t going to be much fun.

Or, if you like efficient decision making, you probably won’t like building consensus so that everyone agrees with the decision.

How can you determine the culture of a company?

One of the keys to understanding your manager is understanding the culture of the company that the manager works in. Then you have to make a decision if your manager is mostly like the culture or different then the culture.

Yet, there are few guideposts to help us make that determination.

In a revealing post, Carpe Factum (Seize the Accomplishment) notes:

“Before you react (or overreact) to your next workplace conflict, think about the issue of context and do a little background research to figure out WHY people are acting in a way which may not make sense to you.”

The “why” is context. If your manager is driving you crazy by bringing in twenty other people in order to make a decision, what’s the context? Is it what the other managers do as well? If so, that’s the culture.

Or, does your manager go into a meeting, listen to everyone involved and then make a decision? Are decisions actually made in the meetings you attend? If they are, that’s the culture (oh, if it could only be true…).

So the key to understanding a company’s management culture is to understand the context. To get some hints, you need to ask or observe the context around decisions and conflicts. Here’s some areas of focus:

Decision making

Knowing how decisions are made is key to understanding the culture. Ask what type of consensus building takes place about making a change to a department.

Ask if it is normal to not have an agenda with a purpose for the meeting attached to the meeting invite.

Ask how management communicates changes in the business.


Ask how each role is different in the manager’s department. Or how the work is divided. Does everyone have a unique role? Or are all roles the same? If they are the same, how is the work performance measured?

Ask how the manager can tell goals are getting off-track and how they go about fixing it. If the manager can’t point to reports or solid measures, there won’t be a lot of accountability.

Team Meetings

Ask what a typical team meeting agenda is for the manager. Do they always bring in someone from another department so you can learn about their area? Do they always have time to discuss how the company is doing?

Are there no team meetings? Or are there working meetings where everyone works on a common project? What happens when someone pushes back in a team meeting?

Knowing what’s inside of a team meeting can give you good context behind the culture.

Culture and Career Management

Fitting your personality into a corporate culture that appeals to you is no easy matter. To be stuck in a culture that is not like your personality when you spend half your waking hours at work is simply asking for disengagement and poor work.

Look for the context and you can understand the culture.